Tampa Bay vs Montreal – 2021 Stanley Cup Preview


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Saturday, May 15, 2021. That was the start of the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both of these teams entered with completely different expectations, but with the same goal, win the Cup. In a little over a week, either Tampa Bay or Montreal will be crowned champions. Tampa expected to be here, anything less than a repeat is a failure. Montreal, for them this has all been house money. No one expected this, yet here they are.

Everything is now on the line. Both teams just four wins away from glory. Here’s how they match up.

Series Odds

Odds via Bet365

Percentage odds via Dom Luszczyszyn & MoneyPuck.com

Breakdown

Again, like every other series Montreal has been in, they are the heavy underdogs, just how they like it. With a chance to ends Canada’s cup drought, and get guys like Price and Weber a ring, they’ll be extra motivated. Tampa Bay on the other hand wants to win it for their fans, and everyone within the organization who couldn’t part of the run in the bubble last year.

Starting with the Habs style, 1-1-3, and wait. They’ve been really good at sticking to their playstyle and making it work. They shocked Toronto, Winnipeg, and especially Vegas with it. Think of their style as Islanders north, which is worrying considering how well Tampa played the Islanders, despite it going seven. Tampa is no stranger to this playstyle, but if the Habs start to go shot for shot against them, it won’t end well for them. Montreal does one thing so incredibly well, and it’s playing the trap until they get their chance, with guys like Toffoli or Caufield, they can make it count. On the rush, Montreal led the final four teams in rush shooting percentage with 43%, next closest was Tampa at 36%. Throughout the playoffs, Montreal has got the goals they needed from unsuspecting players like Lehkonin or Perry. Guys like Gallagher and Anderson have had their chances, the puck just hasn’t gone in for them. Gallagher led the team in shots against Vegas with 17, yet has nothing to show since game one against Winnipeg. His linemate Phillip Danault will be called upon, only 3 assists in these playoffs and not a negative thing to say about his game. Danault has been fantastic, shutting down big names like Matthews and Stone, he is an elite neutralizer. He has allowed Suzuki and Toffoli to be themselves and no worry about their own end. The issue for the Habs will be defending the onslaught of the Tampa Bay attack, line after line, they come at you in waves, and there’s only so much Danault can defend, the rest of the team, the defense outside of Weber and Charot will need to step up big, and even score some goals. Luckily for Montreal, when all else fails, Carey Price. Hilariously enough he won’t be the best goalie going into this series, but he is Carey Price, that’s all I really need to say.

Tampa Bay, welcome back. Sending a team $18million dollars over the salary cap, you better be back. Luckily enough for Tampa, they shouldn’t be frustrated by Montreal’s style of play, they are used to it by now. Back in the 2020 season when they last played each other, Tampa swept the season series 4-0, outscoring them 14-7. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman called the Habs “Islanders light”. That’s got to be encouraging for the Lightning, based on how well they beat the Islanders in the semi-finals. Even when the puck wasn’t going in for them, they stuck to their game plan and refused to be frustrated. All of that experience is going to be key when the shooters like Point, Stamkos, and Kucherov will be tested against Price. The depth Tampa has upfront is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory, they are a true team of a wave after wave attack, and any of their four lines can grind and score. Eventually one of the top lines for Tampa will get a shot to play against the sheltered 3rd D pairing of Montreal, that mismatch is one Montreal has been able to avoid, until now. The Tampa D will be an interesting watch. Against Vegas, Montreal had trouble in their own zone defending shots from the point. They boxed out the forwards well but left the D to beat Price, which happened on more than one occasion. Tampa will look to continue attacking that weakness. Their forwards won’t be boxed out like Vegas’ were, they drive the net too much. Tampa Bay has a very strong blue line, which until now hasn’t needed to produce much. Sergachev or McDonagh will need to come up with more than just 7 combined points through the playoffs. I would also look for Hedman to take more shots and end these playoffs with more than just a single goal. In net there is finally a formidable opponent to Price. Vasilevsky might be the only goalie right now that can out-duel him. Knowing how Montreal relies on a rush attack, hoping for that one chance to go in, their odds of being successful go down when facing a goalie like Vasilevsky. Just to add to his run, the four last series-clinching games have been shutouts. Montreal already struggles to score and Vasilevkiy will make it tough to beat him one on one.

Players to Watch

Tampa Bay

Nikita Kucherov: 18GP / 5G / 22A / 27P

Brayden Point: 18GP / 14G / 6A / 20P

Steven Stamkos: 18GP / 7G / 10A / 17P

Wildcard – Victor Hedman: 18GP / 1G / 15A / 16P

Montreal

Tyler Toffoli: 17GP / 27G/ 24A / 51P

Nick Suzuki: 17GP / 20G / 20A / 40GP

Cole Caufield: 15GP / 11G / 24A / 35P

Wildcard – Phillip Danault: 17GP / 0G / 3A / 3P

The Big Question

For Montreal, it’s how well can they stick to their game plan. They got here by playing one way, and only one way. Every bounce has gone their way so far, they’ve made their own luck. They will need to continue doing what they do, frustrating the offense, relying on Price, scoring on every rush they get, and most importantly, they’ve been healthy. They’ll have to be better than in past series and look for more luck to go their way. Without it, there’s not much they can do.

Tampa Bay just went through war against the Islanders. Lots of guys got hurt, Kucherov and Cernak to name a few. How much gas do they have left, and will they be willing to make life miserable to Price, sacrificing themselves to attack the inside of that 1-1-3 defense. They can beat Montreal in every aspect, but if they don’t have the will to get into the dirty areas, it won’t matter much.

Final Thoughts

I know it sounds dumb to judge a seven-game series in the first period and a half, but that’s what I’m looking at for this one. If Montreal is going to have a shot at winning, they’re going to have to stick to their 1-1-3 style and keep Tampa Bay to the outside, which won’t be easy. Tampa was also able to adjust and stop the Islander’s counter-attack, eliminating the one way a trap team can score. It will be an extremely tough task for Montreal, but it isn’t impossible, they’re here. 

Motivation is a big factor. In 2018 when the Capitals won, Ovechkin was dialed in. He knew they weren’t going to beat. The team rallied around him and each other, doing everything possible to get him that elusive cup. There’s a lot of similarities in this Tampa team. They know they are going to win, each and every night. They wanted to win for the fans, for Stamkos who only played 2:47 in game 6 of the SCF last year, and scored. The desperation of the final 5min against the Islanders was on another level. There’s a difference between rallying around being the ‘underdog’ like Montreal. Tampa knows each and every game how good they are, John Cooper is the ultimate motivator. Tampa Bay is going to repeat, they know they are going to repeat. Not like Vegas’ who got cocky. Tampa just knows how good of a group they have, they know what to do and how to do it. Top to bottom, on and off the ice. They want to repeat, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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